Prime Minister (PM) Charlot Salwai led a high-level delegation to Israel from the 14th to the 19th of October, 2018.
The delegates comprised Matai Seremaiah, Minister of Agriculture, Forestry, Fisheries, and Biosecurity, Acting Director Generals of Agriculture, Foreign Affairs, and Prime Minister’s Office, Director of Foreign Affairs and the PM’s First Political Advisor.
The official visit to Israel was in response to an invitation by the Prime Minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, to Prime minister Salwai to meet with him in Israel as part of strengthening development cooperation and bilateral relation between the two countries.
As a way of background, Vanuatu established diplomatic relations with the State of Israel on 16 December 1993 to promote mutual understanding and friendly relations in all political, economic, social, humanitarian, cultural and religious spheres.
Since then, Vanuatu has witnessed a gradual increase in Israel’s assistance over the years in the areas of economic cooperation, Agriculture, Climate Change and Renewable Energy, Marine and Fisheries, Education, Health and Culture, Faith and Public Diplomacy, whichhas continued to make the difference for the average ni-Vanuatu.
On the other hand, the state of Israel is a robust parliamentary democracy and there is a lot that Vanuatu could gain from this bilateral relationship. In the last five years, the Israel economy has grown steadily, and continuing strong foreign investment, tax revenue, and private consumption levels have helped the economy recover quickly from shocks such as the conflict with Hizballah in 2006.
Recent forecasts estimate that the Israeli economy will grow between 2.8 and 3.0 per cent year-on-year in the next two years (2016, 2017). GDP growth was 2.5 per cent in 2015. This growth is partly due tohigh-tech exports of which ICT is one of the key industries that drive its economy in addition to oil and gas.
Indeed, Israel is renowned for its aquaculture and mariculture, which enable a 25 percent increase in domestic breeding in the final decade of the 20th century. This includes: fish growing in artificial ponds, including tilapia, mullet, carp, trout, bass and silver carp, mainly in the northern part of the country; salt water fish, including bass and sea-bream, raised in floating cages in the Mediterranean Sea and the Gulf of Eilat; and fresh-water fishing in Lake Kinneret.
The increased agricultural production, despite severe water and land limitation, was the outcome of collaboration and integrated approach between researchers, extension workers, farmers and agriculture-related services and industries. Continuous, application-oriented research and development (R&D) has been carried out in the country since the beginning of the last century. The agricultural sector today is based almost entirely on science-linked technology, with government agencies, academic institutions, industry and cooperative bodies working together to seek solutions and meet new challenges.
In terms of Agriculture, Agricultural projects and research collaboration constitute about half of Israel’s international cooperation programs. Emphasis is placed on training courses in agricultural subjects, with some 1,400 participants from over 80 countries attending specialized courses in Israel every year, and thousands of trainees receiving on-the-spot training in their own countries. Since 1958, thousands of Israeli agricultural experts have been sent abroad on long- and short-term assignments.
Indeed, Israel is the number 1 in the world today in waste water management, desalination and water recycling.Ithas more start-ups per capita than any other nation when it comes to Innovation and Entrepreneurship for Development. It is an achievement which is the result of close collaboration between business and government, and a culture that rewards risk-taking, embraces innovation and entrepreneurship and encourages imagination. Sectors include: Small and Medium Enterprises; Innovative Entrepreneurship – from an idea to starting a business; Support Systems for Entrepreneurs; the Use of ICTs in Support Systems to Advance Microenterprises.
Whilst in Israel Prime Minister Salwai and his delegation visited Volcani Agriculture Institute, a prime and leading institution in agricultural research, innovation and practical application. As part of the practical demonstration the delegation visited an innovated agricultural farm called green2000 of which the delegation had an opportunity to brief on innovated method for food security and increased production.
At the bilateral meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Prime Minister Salwai reaffirmed Vanuatu’s appreciation of the relationship that Vanuatu has with the state of Israel and commented that Vanuatu– Israel relations has a potential to expand and deepen into the future. He also acknowledged that Vanuatu strategic partnership with Israel has brought many benefits and is far from exhausting its potential.
The official state visit to Israel is to reinforce Vanuatu commitment to this strategic partnership relations and also an opportunity to explore how Vanuatu could benefit from the shared experiences of Israel in the areas of water management, purification, desalination and, innovated method for increasing production quantity and quality.
On the development front, Prime Minister discussed with his counterpart opportunity to broaden and deepen the existing mutual development cooperation between the two countries to cover the following areas:
- Technical assistance in the provision of clean water (water purification, desalination and recycling) through the Department of Water Resources. Access to clean water is a major problem around Vanuatu and access to such expertise will greatly improve community welfare in Vanuatu.
- Assistance in providing educational training schemes (scholarships) to Vanuatu citizens especially those who are interested in pursuing further studies in areas of Aquaculture, Information Technology, Farming Technology, Irrigation Technology and Green Farming and Energy techniques.
- Seek support of Israel for Vanuatu’s post 2020 after the LDC Graduation, like establishing an enabling environment to allow possible Israel Investment in Vanuatu
PM Salwai is also exploring opportunity for expanding technical cooperation assistance with the State of Israel to cover national security, particularly intelligence training amidst growing global security challenges that poses threat to Smaller Island States like Vanuatu.
In response, Prime MinisterNetanyahu reaffirmed its country’s commitment to this strategic partnership and agreed for Israel to provide early interventions in water and agriculture sector. The government of Israel will mobilise its experts in the areas of water and agriculture to undertake a feasibility study to determine a need and understand how this assistance can be framed to suit Vanuatu’s context.
The Israel government is also assured Vanuatu government to make twenty (20) scholarship available to ni-Vanuatu each year in the fields of agriculture. The scholarship is fully funded except the airfares.
On the political front, Israel acknowledged support of Vanuatu over the years at the international development arena and in particular the Vanuatu’s support for the State of Israel to become member of the Asian Development Bank. Furthermore, Israel seek Vanuatu’s unwavering position and consensus to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.
In response, Prime Minister Salwai, assured his counterpart that he will follow up with his Council of Ministers and will communicate Vanuatu’s position on Jerusalem as capital of Israel without further delay.
PM Salwai further commented that Vanuatu’s constitution recognised Christianity and hence as a Christian country there is evidence beyond doubt that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel. Indeed, this is the belief of all Christians around the world.
The state of Israel was established in 14 May 1948 and has the city of Tel Aviv as its economic and technological centre while its seat of government and proclaimed capital is Jerusalem although the state sovereignty over Jerusalem is partially recognised.
In 1989, the Vanuatu government moved to recognize the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) aligning itself with the Non-Alignment Movement (NAM) principle on decolonisation and the right to self — determination.
It was not until 1993 that the country decided to recognise the state of Israel due to Vanuatu’s strong connection with Christianity which has its roots in Israel. This lead to Vanuatu abstaining from major UN resolutions on the Israel Palestine conflict which prime multilateral solution over bilateral negotiations. The Vanuatu government reiterate its preference for bilateral negotiations between Israel and Palestine over multilateral diplomacy as a mean to achieve a peaceful solution to this long-standing issue.
Despite recognition of the Palestine Liberation Movement Vanuatu chose to abstain from voting on the UN General Assembly resolution that upgraded the status of Palestine as a Non-Observer state to the UN and those resolutions that condemn the Israel settlement of the Occupied Palestine Territories.
The recent one being the recognition of Jerusalem as capital of Israel in a move by the Arab league of countries to counter the move by US to recognise Jerusalem as the Jewish state capital.
By abstaining to vote on the UN resolution by the Arab League of countries to reject the recognition of Jerusalem as capital of Israel Vanuatu wants to underscore the importance Jerusalem represents for Christian faith and other faiths. Vanuatu is also of the view that the resolution is one sided and does not advance the peace process that UN aspires.
In the meeting with Prime Minister Netanyahu, Prime Minister Salwai reaffirmed Vanuatu commitment to work with Israel to find a peaceful solution to the Israel Palestine conflict and to review Vanuatu’s stand on the recognition of Jerusalem as capital of Israel.
The two leaders noted that existing Memorandum of Understanding on development cooperation between the two countries expired in 2017 and agreed for the officials of the two countries to renew it and take into consideration the outcome of this bilateral talk.
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